Game 31 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz

Blazers: 15-15

Jazz: 21-9

Game Details: Energy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT. 6:00 PM. TV: KGW. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM)

Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6′2″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6′5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum(#88, 6′9″, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6′11″, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6′11″, UMass)

Projected Utah Starting Lineup: PG Deron Williams (#8, 6′3″, Illinois), SG Raja Bell (#19, 6′5″, Florida International), SF Andrei Kirilenko (#47, 6′9″, Russia), PF Paul Millsap (#24, 6′8″, Lousiana Tech), C Al Jefferson (#25, 6′10″, Prentiss High School)

The last time the Blazers faced the Northwest Division-leading Utah Jazz, they were the better team for three quarters before falling apart in the fourth and letting Utah take the game. Portland kind of does that a lot this year. In fact, they did it two days ago against Golden State. But as discouraging as that may be, the Blazers are in more or less the same state of disrepair injury-wise that they were the last time they played Utah, so the fact that this squad is capable of at least hanging with the Jazz, who are currently riding a three-game winning streak, is reason enough not to write this game off right away.

The bad news for the Blazers is that Mehmet Okur is expected to make his return to the Jazz today after suffering a ruptured Achilles in the playoffs last season and a sprained ankle during an aborted comeback earlier this year. Given the solid play of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, Okur likely won’t start for Utah as he has done in years past. Millsap and Jefferson give the Portland bigs enough problems as it is, but Okur’s outside shooting ability is going to pose even more matchup issues. Don’t be surprised if Millsap has a huge scoring night tonight while the Blazers’ big men are on the perimeter with Okur.

The rest of the Jazz team poses a pretty difficult matchup for Portland as well. Deron Williams is, of course, one of the two or three best point guards in the NBA. The Blazers will not win tonight if they commit too many turnovers, because Williams will not give them back to them. Portland was killed in the fourth quarter last time almost singlehandedly by C.J. Miles’ three-point shooting, and while he likely won’t go off to the extent that he did in that game, he can still hurt you if you’re not careful. Ditto Raja Bell and Andrei Kirilenko. The Blazers need a balanced defensive effort tonight, which will be tough given the addition of Okur and the continued absence of Joel Przybilla.

As has been the pattern lately, much of the offensive load for the Blazers will be on the shoulders of Wesley Matthews and LaMarcus Aldridge, but against a solid, well-coached team like the Jazz, that alone will not be enough. Nicolas Batum as played well since returning to the starting lineup in place of the injured Brandon Roy. Utah has a few three-point shooting threats in their rotation, so Rudy Fernandez needs to have his shots fall tonight. We can probably count on Miller to at least hold his own against Williams, but solid play by Armon Johnson and Patty Mills couldn’t hurt. It’s important tonight for Aldridge and Camby to stay out of foul trouble tonight–the Blazers can’t realistically expect to win if Sean Marks has to play long stretches of time against Jefferson, Millsap, and Okur. This is a winnable game for Portland if they play solid defense and don’t turn the ball over, but the Jazz have the third-best record in the Western Conference and won’t want to give the Blazers any room to breathe at home.

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